From Strength Coach to Personal Trainer
Personal training wasn’t really what I set out to do. I spent 2001 with the Colorado Rockies. This was the year Barry Bonds would smash the MLB home run record by hitting 73 home runs – three past Mark McGwire’s record of 70 set from just three years previous. To a 24-year-old minor league strength coach, this seemed like the best time in history to be in baseball. But like many coveted careers, young strength coaches need to endure, which often means getting paid pennies on the dollar for an undetermined amount of time before catching a break. So I decided to head home, interview with the Kansas City Royals and hope they could pay me enough to make ends-meet. They offered more than I had been making, but not what I had hoped for.
As a certified strength specialist, a member of the National Strength and Conditioning Association and someone who worked for a pro baseball team, personal training wasn’t what I wanted to do. It did seem to be the most reasonable fall-back plan for a year, though. So I started to make some minimum payments on the student loan and credit card statement and numbers started heading in the right direction. Afterall, it was just a year, and then I’d be back on my journey to pro sports.
What I didn’t realize was the power of relationships. My one-year hiatus turned into two, then three and eventually into a career as a personal trainer. How did this happen? Before I even realized it, I’d put aside my hopes and dreams. Reflecting on my “why” lead me to a couple of clear reasons:
- I had developed real and meaningful relationships with clients who were great people.
- I had gotten comfortable.
Building a Business
I’m not proud to admit my second reason but I have to admit there is some truth to it. I was making way more money than I saw possible in the immediate future of strength and conditioning. And personal training, though challenging at times, was not the 60-70 hour grind of being a graduate assistant or intern strength coach, which is where I could have re-entered the industry – an industry that can be a very “ramen noodle” kind of life with a lot of unknowns. The hardest workers and grinders are the ones who prevail and I have immense respect for those who succeed within it.
So there I was, back where I grew up in Kansas City, building a career in something I hadn’t really set out to do. I always saw it as just a side gig during undergrad and grad school. Now I was embracing it as my career.
I liked training young athletes the most and took a lot of pride in training them. Seeing young athletes I had trained from middle-school succeed all the way to and through college was very fulfilling. But as much as I loved training the young athletes, it was another type of client who sewed my roots into the personal training business.
My Favorite Client Ever
His name was Chris and he was my 2:30 every Friday afternoon. Chris had a heart of gold and a spirit that lit up the room. He was tall, with stringy blonde hair and glasses that often sat askew. His quirkiness only outdone by his love for people.
I have never had so much fun training anyone. Fun to the point of his father taking me aside to make sure we weren’t having “too much fun” and sacrificing the training. So I made our sessions a bit more serious and we cut back a bit of the goofiness between sets, although we still managed to get our fun in.
On Memorial Day 2008 while driving back from my soon to be in-laws house, I got an unexpected call from Chris’s dad. I could barely hold on to the steering wheel the rest of the way home after he told me the news. Chris had passed from heart complications.
Chris had some special needs and he was very, very, special to me. My goal for Chris was to help him live a deeper and more meaningful life, a long life. A life of fulfillment, of optimized health and without pain or discomfort. It crushed me to see him taken from us so soon.
Our sessions together were dedicated to the goals I had set with his parents. But training Chris was a learning experience for me. It taught me about meaningful relationships. Those times together on Friday afternoons were special moments, ones that won’t be forgotten.
Caring Makes the Biggest Impact
Benjamin Franklin said,
“No one cares how much you know till they know how much you care.”
I’ve come to learn the truth in this, true experts who care are rare. It seems way easier for whatever reason to just do one or the other. The values of staying hungry and humble should be interwoven in every organization.
I share Chris’s story because I learned so much from him. believe God used him to speak to me. To show me that there is a deeper reason why I do what I do.
Today at Move Right KC, we work with a beautiful nonprofit called The Mission Project. My heart to personally train individuals with special needs originated with Chris. It lives on through more than 20 relationships with participants in our MPower program.
It doesn’t really matter if you’re training professional athletes, celebrities or eighty-year-olds who want to garden hard, there is a responsibility personal trainers have to not only be well-educated but to truly care. We are in a relational business and truly caring about those we serve is paramount. Our jobs are as much about the relationships we cultivate as they are about the outcomes we help achieve.